Steamboat Springs If there was such a thing as a run to the playoffs for the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team, it would start today against Palmer and continue Saturday against Air Academy.
The Sailors (9-3-2 overall, 5-3 in conference) are in the sixth position in the Peak League standings. At the end of the year, the top eight teams in the league are seeded for the state playoffs based on the points they earn in league competition.
In the last four games of the season, the Sailors play two teams that are ahead of them in the league (Air Academy and Battle Mountain), one they are tied with (Rampart) and one that's just two points behind them (Palmer).
"We need to win conference games to improve our seeding," said Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff, whose team will play its last home games of the season this weekend. "A lot of where these teams are going to be will shake out this weekend."
Against Palmer (today at 6:30 p.m. at Howelsen Ice Arena) the Sailors will try to end a two-game losing steak.
Playing last weekend against Pine Creek and Pueblo County, Ruff said the Sailors missed numerous opportunities that could have swung the games in different directions.
"Against Pine Creek we had real good scoring opportunities four times," Ruff said. "Had we scored those goals (then), their goaltender doesn't think that he's Patrick Roy all of a sudden."
But instead of feeling down on themselves, Ruff said he's seen a rejuvenated Sailors team.
"(This week) we tried to get back a lot of our intensity," winger Jake Stanford said. "That's something we felt we lacked last weekend. So we skated real hard and got back in tune."
Ruff admitted he doesn't know a lot about Palmer (8-7, 4-4) but said that's fine with him. It doesn't matter what the other team does or doesn't do, he said, it just matters how the Sailors play.
"We just need to play well and get in the habit of playing well and these games will sort of be our road to the playoffs," he said. "It's more about us. When you look at those top eight teams in our league, they're all pretty comparable."
One of those eight teams - and a team ahead of Steamboat in the standings - is Air Academy.
Saturday's game against the Kadets (1:15 p.m. at Howelsen Ice Arena) should provide the Sailors with a playoff-like atmosphere.
Air Academy (11-2-1, 5-1-1) is ranked No. 3 in the state.
Ruff said the Sailors are focusing on the games at hand, but he knows the push for the playoffs starts today.
"It starts now," he said. "Not in three weeks or a month. It starts now."